Smith, Kate (2016) ‘Women Speak Out’: Stories from women who have been affected by Female Genital Mutilation. In: Safeguarding – An introduction to Female Genital Mutilation, Forced Marriage and Honour Based Violence, Friday 9 December, 2016, Halifax, Calderdale. (Unpublished)

Based in WomenCentre, Kirklees and funded by ROSA, the Women Speak Out was a one year project that focused on women speaking about and against FGM. Women created digital stories about FGM experiences and practices using spoken word, images and music. Digital storytelling is a particularly valuable process for storytellers who have been silenced because of histories of violence and oppression, gender, age, and membership of FGM practicing families and communities. Some of these digital stories were created by groups of women, others are individual personal stories. An important storytelling process, digital storytelling can help us reclaim women’s rights and roles in speaking out about and against FGM.

In telling and listening to stories that can teach and inform us all about FGM, this session highlights the importance and the need for community-based organisations in tackling FGM and the importance of ‘community-led’ change within efforts to end FGM. This includes listening to the voices of women and girls who oppose the practice, and to others who can support them in doing so, as well as valuing the informal and community networks and spaces where much of the effective and in-depth conversations on FGM can occur. The recent Multi-agency statutory guidance on female genital mutilation produced by the government in 2016 highlight the importance of working with communities and CBOs:

“Wherever possible, professionals should actively seek and support ways to reduce the prevalence of FGM in practicing communities in the UK. Agencies should consider how preventative work, delivered by community organisations/community change advocates, can be embedded within their organisation’s work on protection, with a focus on involving community support for girls and families at risk” (Multi-agency statutory guidance on female genital mutilation, 2016).

With many organisations and professionals seeking to work with FGM affected communities in non-stigmatising ways, forms of community engagement are important. Many communities may have a mistrust of statutory professionals (especially of safeguarding/child protection) and create additional barriers for engagement. Community engagement can support with overcoming these barriers and facilitate working between statutory services and different communities.

This project is underpinned by the ‘best practice’ principles from the learning of the Tackling FGM Initiative (TFGMI), which aims to strengthen community-based prevention of FGM among affected communities in the UK and which WomenCentre was a part. The principles are: a ‘human rights approach’, ‘Do no harm’, ‘Women and girls at the centre of the project’ and ‘Involve wider stakeholders.

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